We had the good fortune of connecting with Rachel Cohen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Rachel, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
I struggled for years to understand what it meant to have balance. I’d work really hard, put in 50-60 hour weeks, say yes to every request and constantly strive to prove myself and then I’d realize how much time I was spending in front of a screen rather than outdoors with friends and I’d swing my attention heavily in the other direction. It never felt like balance, more like a fast moving seesaw. Balance is elusive and for me is more about honoring myself as much as my clients. If I don’t fill my own cup, I can’t be fully present. It is also acknowledging that it is less about balance and more about flow.
For me this means paying attention to what fills me up: hiking, creating a homestead with my husband and growing/raising nutritious food for my family and sharing the surplus with others like the dozens of duck eggs we donate to our local food pantry, snuggling my dogs, traveling the world and volunteering. I live my mission of making the world a better place through my volunteering as a Board member for Kavod Senior Life, a senior housing provider, and with Staunton State Park Track Chair program where we take people with limited mobility challenges hiking using motorized wheelchairs.
This also means that I have to set boundaries with my schedule as I could easily work 70 hour weeks. I block off Monday mornings to do planning for the week so that I eliminate the Sunday night anxiety and I don’t schedule meetings on Friday afternoons to give myself the option of going for a hike or laying in the hammock to read. In addition, at the start of the year, I schedule my time off for the whole year, building in long weekends and full weeks to disconnect. I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t do this, then I easily go an entire year without time to renew.
What should our readers know about your business?
From an early age, I was very passionate about making our world a better place, from starting a recycling service for friends and family to serving as youth advisor on a community planning board. These early experiences with recognizing a need, raising awareness coupled with behavior change reinforced through collaboration set me on my path. My Dad was in the Army, which meant we moved around a lot, never put down roots yet experienced a lot of different types of communities. I became intrigued by how physical design like parks, sidewalks, location of shopping and even the direction a house faced could influence social connections and determine whether someone could live a lifetime in the same community or not.
For 20 years, I took a traditional path of working for others in aging, housing, health, social services and community development, learning about all the different elements of a community growing more and more frustrated at how siloed it was and how nothing really seemed to change. Because I purposely worked in a number of sectors, I could speak all their different languages and became the Bridge Builder, creating collaborations across sectors, starting with teaching them to speak each other’s languages, to share their strengths and articulate their value and what they needed to gain to make this collaborative worthwhile. This is not easy but it is fulfilling work and as Marion Bloye encouraged me so many years ago, I recognized how my special gifts like being able to see how all the different components of a community influenced quality of life could be applied.
My instincts are to turn challenges into opportunities for action, so five years ago I took the leap and founded Aging Dynamics as a mission driven consulting firm with clear strong values of integrity, being genuine, purpose driven and inclusive. We are committed to helping the helpers, those who also strive to make our world, one community at a time, better for all. Our mission is to build awareness, skills and capacity of exponentially more organizations and funders; to model a collaborative, interconnected approach to strengthening communities so that they are HOME to people of all ages and abilities at all stages of their lives.
We do things differently by building bridges across sectors, identifying concrete actions and building the skills needed to do them, rather than just writing yet another report. Our clients learn to recognize and measure the value of working collaboratively, how to communicate more effectively and the skills to actually be more inclusive. It’s been challenging but very rewarding to continually refine and evolve the services I offer from the traditional strategic planning to a deeper more meaningful organizational and community strategy is exciting.
A part of my vision for Aging-Dynamics has been to work with both mission driven organizations and funders so that they individually and collectively can be more effective. Community change requires creativity, patience and flexible funding. One of my long standing client projects, LinkAGES, five years and counting, started as a strategic plan and has led to the creation of a more effective model of collaboration and funding. We are strengthening our member organizations ability to partner, offer meaningful intergenerational programming and together address social isolation. At the same time we are creating a model for funders to ensure that their dollars are having greater impact and we are collecting the data to prove all of this. LinkAGES is an example of why I founded Aging Dynamics, to be able to have real impact by demonstrating how to do better, be better and work together more effectively.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I am driven by two things: good food and a love of nature. My friends know when they come visit me that we will either be be spending our time in the mountains OR eating OR both! Our eating exploration would include my front range favorites: wings at Fire on the Mountain; ice cream at Sweet Cow; Cuban at Frijoloes Colorado in Lakewood; gluten free treats from Rheinlanders Bakery in Arvada; fine dining at Mizuna; BBQ at Scooters in Conifer and a cold brew at Holidaily Brewery in Golden. Aside from all that eating and drinking we’d be in the mountains exploring my favorite state park, Staunton State Park and then would hit the road to do a tour of hot springs around the state.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I believe life is a journey and who I’ve become and what I’ve been able to do so far is without a doubt a result of the people in my life. I’ve been blessed to have parents who ALWAYS encouraged me, visited me no matter where in the world I wandered and even if they couldn’t see my vision initially would help me think through the challenges. I have also been incredibly fortunate to have had a number of mentors throughout my life who each generously shared their knowledge and advice guiding me to use my gifts more fully. One in particular, Marion Bloye, then Executive Director of Building Bridges in Detroit, hosted me for my graduate internships, offering a place where I could explore both community planning and social work through providing care management for older adults and building affordable housing. She shared her five decades of intensive community work and showed me how to work WITH the community, create a space for all voices and knit together my passion for community building and aging through the lens of creating age friendly communities. She encouraged me to explore, be courageously curious and simply be myself. I still have the card she gave me in 2002, in which she simply said, ” I have faith in you.”